Last week we had a harvest moon. We had friends over for dinner and fairy lights on our porch in the gathering darkness, and between dinner and dessert we took a walk around the block to see the big, round, golden moon hanging low in the sky right at the end of the road. I “googled” harvest moon poems and shared Carl Sandberg, Ted Hughes, and Longfellow’s. The harvest moon is the full moon closest to the equinox- when daylight and darkness are parceled out in equal amounts over the twenty-four hours of the day. Summer turns to Fall and we feel the daylight shortening until one day it is equal to the night, and then on inexorably toward the shortening days of winter that test our hearts and will.
I think about the Native Americans, who named each of the monthly moons. Full Cold moon, Strawberry moon, Green Corn moon, Harvest moon, Long Nights moon. And the farmers as well, named the moons and even planted some of their precious seed by moonlight when the time was auspicious. Then, each month had its own character and each lunar cycle added rhythm to the year, ebbing and changing over their 28 days over and over. Now, we barely look up, and instead look to the digital images on our smart phones for dates and times, weather and even the phase of the moon that day.
I learned once about another Native American practice. Some tribes would keep a special buffalo hide to mark the passing years of the group. An individual who had perspective and judgment would keep this large leather hide, black-fringed tail left on as a recognition of the animal that provided it. In a spiral, with oldest history in the center and current time reaching out from that center, they would ink in a pictograph to represent one single memory for each year. The year of the starving winter. The year the sun eclipsed one day. The year of sickness. The year of good harvest. The year of contact with unknown others. The year twins were born. The year a new route was found.
I thought of keeping a spiraling history of my family. The years do roll by so fast, to just remember one important thing for each of them would be a pleasure. The year of marriage. The year of our house. The year of Emily, year of Beth, year of Joey, year of a lost child. The year a degree was finished. The year of a traffic accident. The year of a far, far trip. The year of loss of grandparents. The year of seeing far relations. The year of a new job. The year of a grandchild. The year of giving up a job.
It is a comfort to consider the spiral of life. I picture the spiral receeding into the dense center where forbears lived, and reaching out at its edge to mark our lives and the years in the lives of generations to come.
It is a comfort to remember we are a part of celestial cycles, of solar, lunar and terrestrial rhythms that add an underlying structure to the chaos of our busy days. To remember that those short days of low light, chafed skin and dark moods will be relieved by the motion of the heavenly spheres. And the days of too much sun, harvest, and fullness will calm and ebb with the passage of time.